The Monaco Grand Prix for the Monégasques
by Alexandra Groom
It’s famous for a reason. Its narrow winding roads are the streets used by the resident Monégasques for the remaining 361 days of the year. Yes, 361, not 363, I’m not that bad at subtracting. The Monaco Grand Prix actually lasts for four, noisy days. This year the track, our main roads, will close at 7am on Thursday 24th of May and not reopen til 7pm that night, with this being the pattern until Sunday 27th.
The Formula 1 clearly attracts most people’s attention; it has glamorous celebrities queuing up to be spotted mingling with the daredevil racers in cars with top speeds of 370 km/h, for whom careering down straights and playing chicken with the last opportunity to break before slamming into the corner is “fun”.
Saturday obviously plays host to the F1 qualifiers. But what about the Thursday and Friday? On the Thursday morning our alarm call is the 8:30am Formula Renault 3.5 Series, who have just under an hour to train. This is followed by Formula 1, GP2 and Porsche Supercup training, and the GP2 qualifying round. With only a 1 and a half hour break for lunch and short turnarounds, this is a very noisy start to the four days.
I feel I should explain another aspect which draws the crowds back, year after year: the noise. It is like no other circuit in the world. Apart from the fact that unless you leave the country, you cannot get away from the track, it is by far the noisiest.Geographically, Monaco is perched on a cliff, running down into a natural bay. Sounds picturesque doesn’t it? It is. But come the last weekend in May at 9am, I sometimes wish it was as flat as the Netherlands. The noise reverberates round the bay, hitting the sides of the cliffs and bouncing back again. Every time a car accelerates, we hear it repeated three times. And those many corners and hills means lots of acceleration. It’s all part of the unique experience. As is the smell. For those of you who love the smell of a petrol station, Monaco is heaven. A glorious mist of benzene hangs over the city for a week; the Grand Prix really is for all the senses.
It is an incredibly intense four days. Monaco as a country is almost unrecognisable. Steel girders and tires line the roads, huge stands are erected, full garden roundabouts are lifted off the road and bridges are positioned to be able to get around. This all needs preparation. My Easter holiday revision was seriously hampered by all the banging and crashing of metal on metal. I wonder if that counts as serious adverse circumstances? Monaco also, irritatingly, becomes known as Monte-Carlo for these few days, (Monte-Carlo is just a quartier of Monaco) by the quarter of a million people who descend upon it, a slight increase on its normal population of 35,000. All this in less than a mile squared, or equivalent to a third of Hyde Park.
And since you ask, I’m team Webber. Just love him. So, tune in, 1pm, Sunday 27th May. Turn the TV up on full volume, and hear the real noise.